We’ve seen and heard plenty about “toxic masculinity,” but what does healthy masculinity look like?
Healthy men are not run by or engulfed with fear. They demonstrate care, empathy, and compassion for themselves. They are in equilibrated pursuit of their dreams, purpose, and vision. Healthy men make decisions from a place of honoring themselves first.
This may sound selfish, but the truth is there is a difference between being a healthy man and simply playing the role of a “good man.”
When men are playing a role and simply being “good” for others, they are more likely to become resentful, reinforce patterns of codependency, diminish their value, minimize their voices, and the entire process becomes unsustainable and eventually blows up.
When men are healthy within their own constitution—mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational—their ability to relate evolves. They are able to move beyond taking from others and move into giving to others. When men choose to move toward healthier and sustainable behaviors for themselves, it benefits everyone.
Being a healthy man is a sacred practice—one that not only connects us to women but also reveres their worth and value.
Women have so much to give. Their endearing presence, their innate wisdom, their compassion, the ability to birth, their reflections, leadership, strength, courage, intuition, complimentary power, empathy, radiance, groundedness on Earth, and so much more!
We often miss celebrating this and realizing how this evolves our own lives—collectively and individually because we are either stuck in our own pain and fears or stuck in our egos thinking we are better than others and that women or the feminine have nothing substantial to offer. We are painfully wrong here.
I blamed everything and everyone for any shortcomings, failings, and trauma. It was always someone else’s fault or responsibility to make me feel better. Never my own. This expressed itself as abrasiveness, rage, and hyper-aggression as a teenager and an adult.
The paradox of this was me wanting others to “heal me” or fix me and take my frustrations away but the truth was I was isolating myself inside; my story was: “I was born alone, I live alone, I’ll die alone.” So, whilst I wanted to be close to others, I was scared to be hurt like I was when I was a child and I had too much armor around my heart to let people in.
The outcome? Intense anger and confusion projected outwardly because I was unwilling to face my stuff. I grew up in a volatile environment, my parents fighting, me experiencing physical and emotional abuse, rejection, abandonment, and confusion. I felt alone and carried that story into my adult relationships.
This caused me to blame others and be extremely hard on myself. My self-imposed expectations were high because I always felt I had to prove myself and the better I did, the more I did, the greater my successes the more perhaps that unconscious drive to have my father’s approval would be satisfied. It never was.
The result? Others were never enough for me because I was never enough for myself. I was unaware that I was doing everything I could to appease someone who didn’t even know I was trying to do that. This destroyed my intimate relationships and heartache was the norm.
It was not until I really stepped into choosing to heal my past and feel and process consciously the unfelt shame, pain, and trauma that the healing began. Then, life shifted. And it was here I was able to appreciate others and not be threatened by their greatness.
The biggest impact this had was on the way I saw women, related to women, and felt about them. I was able to receive all of their wisdom and glory because I learned to receive. To receive we must increase our sense of worthiness and only then can we open up to create the space within ourselves to embody the masculine and revere the feminine.
Here are some of the ways we can begin to embrace healthy masculinity in our lives and relationships:
1. Explore traditional rites of passage.
Men require distinct cultural rites of passage, to assist them to transition from boys to men. This involves overcoming challenges, the practice of solitude, experiencing resourcefulness and resilience, contemplating and being reflective on the social values of their group, life’s purpose, and being welcomed back to reality as a man by other men and peers as a new man/person.
In modernity, it is important that young men and even adult men are supported through a transition of shedding the old versions of self that no longer serve, while they step into new and improved expressions.
2. Practice humility: know you have a sword but don’t need to use it.
Sharpening our skills and not bragging about them is not only a healthy practice for improving social bonds and building trust but is also attractive. For too long, too many men have taken advantage of their strengths and have used these strengths in oppressive ways. These ways need to change.
3. “Temper” your aggression and rage by creating healthy outlets for expression.
This means not taking your frustrations out on your loved ones. Don’t project, blame, and shame others because you are struggling to regulate your emotions.
Boxing, exercise, sharing in a group of men, being out in nature, creating regular healthy challenges all contribute to healthy outlets for releasing, understanding, and dealing with anger so that you can grow from it and not harbor it.
4. Be responsible for your emotions and actions and do your inner work.
Regularly be in contact with your inner world. At the end of every day spend five minutes reflecting on your experiences, who you have been, what you could have done differently, and how you did (or did not) show up.
Now, if you have experienced some difficulty you get to work through it by making contact with it. Bring it to your coach, a friend, or your therapist. Be responsible for how you choose to allow these emotions to affect you.
You decide and you get to realize you are in control. Do not carry an expectation that some else is responsible for your feelings or your healing. Doing our inner work means making the changes we need to make in order to live the life we desire to live.
5. Surround yourself with other healthy men.
Something most men are missing in their lives. We live such “busy” lives that we have forgotten our roots and that is human contact, specifically for men it is forging identity through challenge amongst healthy male peers who will call us forward.
Join a sporting club, create a men’s group, travel regularly with other men into nature, go on men’s retreats, and choose to forge closer friendships with men in your close physical proximity, which may mean making friends with your neighbor and seeing each other once a month. Whatever the contact, do it!
6. Know your value and vision.
This comes down to self-worth and clarity in purpose. In order to value ourselves, we must clear the clutter and/or trauma of the past. To know our value, we must believe in our capabilities. Self-belief comes from being exposed to manageable challenges and then overcoming them. Here, we develop confidence that opens our hearts up to be clear in who we are in the world.
My suggestion here is to surround yourself with people who see your worth and who can communicate that to you, so you can begin to embody it at a deeper level. Here, you will gain the clarity you require to live a fulfilling life.
7. Contribute to your community.
Giving is receiving. The more we give from a place within us that feels full, the more we get. But here is the catch. Do not give with an intention to receive. Just give. The natural byproduct of this is feeling better within ourselves.
Importantly, as we give we access a usually dormant part of ourselves that engages in deeper empathy and compassion—two key ingredients for living a more enjoyable life.
This may look like donating your time as a coach to your child’s sporting team, volunteering at a homeless shelter, being proactive and offering to massage your wife’s feet, giving your time or resources to a charity, or organizing a team-building event at your workplace just because. Whatever your giving is, let it come from the heart.
8. Know your edges by visiting your shadows regularly.
This can be tough for many of us. Visiting the uncomfortable, rejected by society or neglected parts of us is not easy. The anger, jealousy, grief, depression, rage, feelings of low self-worth, and more are not easy places to go.
I suggest being surrounded by people who can support you exploring these painful aspects of self—a counselor, a men’s group, a coach, a shaman, a therapist, and even close friends who can hold non-judgmental space for all of your feelings.
Allowing regular space to explore these neglected parts of your psyche can be a relationship saver as they keep us more open as opposed to bottling it all up inside.
9. Be competent and confident in your body.
There is nothing more attractive than a man who is confident in his body. This demonstrates competency, trust, discipline, ability, and honor in one’s self. When a man makes the effort to look after himself and know himself he can be more trustworthy because he cares about himself enough to be healthy.
We were made to move. It is natural for us to do so. Carrying confidence in our bodies demonstrates self-care. Yes, there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and egoism. As men on this path, we get to temper the temptation of vanity and self-indulgence with body awareness and healthy choices.
10. Explore the unknown with openness and prowess.
Exploration has been the domain of humanity since the dawn of our time. We are where we are because of the risks we have taken. The willingness to explore unchartered territories.
For millennia, we have explored the physical world—as men, this is familiar to us. However, it is time once again we explore the chasms of our inner world. Actively reflect upon your existential place in this world, study history, the arts, and anything new that interests you.
Go beyond the comfortable shores of the familiar by trying new hobbies, learning new subject matter such as mountaineering, landscaping, or mathematics. Get into the unknown and enjoy learning and as a result, growing.
My own journey to becoming a healthier man started with taking ownership and responsibility for my own actions, inner thoughts, and beliefs. Through this radical responsibility, I was able to grow as a man, community member, brother, friend, leader, and partner.
One is glad to be of service.
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